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Immigration Reform Has Horse Community On Alert


by Jennifer Styskal

The headlines and the debates have been all over the newspapers and news channels the past few weeks. Demonstrations have erupted across the country because of it. Yet it has been a hotly debated issue since the founding of United States: Who should be allowed to enter and how should they be treated when they do? More specifically: Should the United States grant amnesty to the almost 11 million illegal immigrants, or should the country export them back across the borders?


Like most of the country, the Congress is split on its decision. Most senators agree on allowing undocumented immigrants to stay temporarily in the States; the debate is over whether should they leave after working for three years or six years, and should they go home or could they be placed on a path to citizenship.

“Our first obligation is to bring them out of the shadows, make sure we know who they are, why they’re here, make sure we have a name and some kind of identification for them,” Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist said in an interview with The Associated Press.

President Bush supports a temporary worker program that would give illegal immigrants tamper-resistant identity cards that employers would require to see during the hiring process and have the immigrants go to the back of the line when they seek citizenship, stressing that no one would be granted “automatic naturalization.” Some nodded their heads in agreement, while others protested.

Supporters of the House bill call for a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and penalties for illegal immigrants and anyone who helps them, saying that illegal immigrants are a drain on public resources.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., backs up Bush’s plan. “We should reject temporary status and required departure because they are bad for business,” said Kennedy. “What do we gain if millions of immigrant workers who fuel our economy are required to spend weeks-or years or decades under some plans-waiting outside the United States for permission to continue their work?”

Bill proposals have passed back and forth in the Senate and the House, ranging from required registration of illegal immigrants to the government in order stay in the U.S., for up to five years, to placing those who undergo background checks, pay fines, back taxes and clear other obstacles on a “citizenship track,” to total deportation.

When the Senate returned from their two-week recess on Monday, President Bush reinforced his stance on temporary worker provisions, emphasizing that it’s not possible to send home the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

“Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic," Bush told the Orange County Business Council in California. “It's just not going to work. You can hear people out there hollering it's going to work - it's not going to work.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., refuted, saying that Bush’s warning about massive deportation is a “bogus argument” and that if illegal workers are denied employment and benefits, then “they will go home on their own.”

While Bush insisted that the government’s primary job is to enforce the border, he also mentioned that “the one thing we cannot lose sight of is that we’re talking about decent human beings, decent human beings that need to be treated with respect.” That’s why he is encouraging “a rational plan that recognizes people coming here to work, and let them do so on a temporary basis.”

So how does all of this affect the horse community?

Illegal immigrants make up 53 percent of the nation’s agricultural workers, including farms, racetracks and training centers on a year-round basis. Many employers of these industries say that local citizens are not willing to take these heavily physical jobs at any price and are forced to use immigrants who are more enthusiastic to work in these positions.

Opponents to immigrant workers insist that if employers raised their wages, then American-natives would be able to take such jobs; that it’s not for a lack of American workers, but employers wanting to pay illegal workers reduced wages. However, an increase in wages could potentially affect the economy in a negative manner, going so far as to force employers to close shop from lack of income to the business.

While the debate still rages on Capital Hill, U.S. Immigrations and Customs workers continue to perform raids across the country. This has led to the largest workplace raid in the history of the National Immigration Service. On April 20, 2006, nearly 1,200 illegal workers in 26 states were arrested for deportation. All of these immigrants were employed at plants belonging to IFCO Systems North America Inc., a pallet and crate maker U.S. Immigrations and Customs officials say knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Seven company executives were also arrested to face charges.

While, this may seem to be far removed from the horse industry, the numbers of illegal workers in the agricultural field are becoming more evident to authorities. Homeland Security offices and the National Immigration Services are coordinating more raids throughout the country while Congress deliberates how best to handle the situation.

Many horse industry employers are concerned about the final outcome that may result. The American Horse Council released the statement, “The enforcement-only approach taken by the House of Representatives could have severe adverse affects on the horse industry and those local communities dependent upon their business.

“The American Horse Council supports border security, but we are concerned the ‘enforcement first’ approach adopted by the House may overwhelm the attempt at needed, broader immigration reform,” said Jay Hickey, President of the American Horse Council. “If this bill became law, it would place heavy fines and penalties on employers who do not comply, but would not deal with the difficult compliance issues now in effect.”

Some of the key provisions of the House bill that the American Horse Council feels would affect employers in the horse industry are:

• Absence of a guest worker provision to streamline the process or adjustment of status provisions for undocumented workers, which could result in a labor shortage and the loss of experienced employees.
• After two years, all U.S. employers would be required to use a costly and burdensome telephonic and electronic verification system to determine a worker’s employment eligibility.
• Employer penalties for hiring undocumented workers would be substantially increased. The minimum penalty per illegal alien under the bill would be $5,000 for a first offense, $10,000 for a second offense and $25,000 for a third.
• Employers would have to meet recruited individuals face-to-face and undertake the electronic verification procedures before they could even recruit the workers. In many cases, this would require the U.S. employer to travel to a foreign country to interview all prospective employees or otherwise face a $5,000 fine per worker.

Within the upcoming weeks and months, Congress will gradually be coming to a conclusion on the immigration reform topic. Whether it’s a temporary worker bill proposed by the Senate or an “enforcement now” bill from the House, both groups need to hear from the horse community about the need for a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a practical foreign-worker program that will benefit all sides.

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